This morning two commentators were on CNN talking about how a gunman, claiming he was investigating a fake news story about Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, fired shots in a Washington D.C. pizzeria.
Yes, you read that correctly, a guy acted on a fake news story and could have killed someone. Perhaps he was mentally unstable. Perhaps he was one of the many people who feel empowered to do this kind of thing in the #ageoftrump. Or perhaps he was completely incapable of deciphering the difference between a fake news story and a real one. To make matters worse, CNN is reporting that the son of Gen. Michael Flynn, Donald Trump’s pick for National Security Adviser, apparently created this story. Flynn himself has promoted similar stories.
In the course of the on-air discussion, both CNN commentators tried to say something about the importance of truth, evidence-based arguments, critical examination of news stories and other documents, understanding the context of news stories, and considering the source of such narratives. Needless to say, I perked up as I watched these commentators desperately search for a language to describe this problem.
Let me suggest that the language they are looking for is the language of historical thinking. Consider the recent report published by Sam Wineburg and the Stanford History Education Group. Read the entire thing here. It is very rich and it should be read by all teachers, especially history teachers.
I remain convinced that the study of history is the best way to teach kids and college students how to read. If Wineburg and these CNN commentators are correct, the study of history, and the thinking and reading skills that come with it, may be our best hope. Perhaps the #ageoftrump will finally wake us up to the need for this kind of thinking. I hope so.